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First Play: Leonard Cohen, Popular Problems 

Andrea Warner

Leonard Cohen is forever and always a ladies' man. His moments of self-deprecation don't detract from his easy confidence, the purr of his voice. When he sings, scraping the bottom of his register, it reminds me of this lush, black velvet bag with gold drawstrings that we once used to hold all our Scrabble tiles, this warm enclosure where words would linger in anticipation.

Cohen turns 80 on Sept. 21, and to celebrate he's releasing a new record, Popular Problems, which you can listen to below exclusively on CBC Music (Canada only) via Sony Canada, one week before its release on Sept. 23. You can pre-order Popular Problems here.

Considering Cohen's prolific output, it almost seems weird that this is only his 13th album, but his perfectionist tendencies serve him well here. Popular Problems is loaded with moments of stark beauty and some sonic surprises, such as the alt-folk leanings of "Did I Ever Love You" and the twangy, bluesy "My Oh My."

According to his label, Cohen likes to describe the record's sound as "fresh," which could also just be a substitute for "modern." His influences have changed, and he continues to grow and evolve, further honing and perfecting his craft. He resists the stereotypes that dictate aging equals stagnation; that it dulls what was once sharp, precise, observant.

The only thing softer here is Cohen's heart. He sings with more tenderness than ever before, as if love has finally fully penetrated his darkest recesses, particularly on the album's sweet closer, "You Got Me Singing." Love is one of those popular problems after all, and Cohen may finally be in a place where the master has become the student. It's a beautiful bit of role reversal.

Come hang out with me on Twitter: @_AndreaWarner